Just before Christmas, and now early in 2020, I have been spending time with young farmers in the Delta School District choosing seed for spring planting. The kids learn how to read a seed chart so they know what they can grow and when. Since we are working in limited space, I try to guide them with 10 vegetable selections that grow easily, quickly and don’t take up too many square feet.
They are then on their own and vote on the top five plants they would like to grow. These are the first five veggies planted in the spring. During this process, I emphasize that sometimes our plans don’t work out and that we are very much at the mercy of Mother Nature.
This was certainly the case for potato farmers in Delta and the lower Fraser Valley this past fall when it rained 18 of 30 days, preventing farm vehicles from accessing fields for harvest. The result was 150 acres of spuds were left in the ground, 45 of which were lost by local farmer Peter Guichon. Brent Kelly, Jack Bates and others were all affected by the fall deluge.
All these lost spuds were a bonanza for the migrating snow goose populationwhich hung around here much longer than usual. As is the case occasionally, the geese would fly back and forth from Westham Island to the Southlands feasting on the lost crops.
On a much broader level, the perils and paradoxes of the agri-food economy are obvious when you take a look at the Ministry of Agriculture website where two news releases in a week paint two opposite observations on the health of the sector.
The first news release, dated Dec. 13, 2019, “Buying BC like never before: 2018 record year for food sales,” describes increases in processing, an 11 per cent increase in seafood revenues, six per cent in agriculture sales, a 10 per cent increase in food exports and 2,300 new jobs in the food economy. The agri-food sector touched $15 billion for the first time. Sounds pretty impressive and good for us to be supporting local food production.
A week later, on Dec. 20, 2019, the news is not as positive: “Increased Interim payments help BC farmers recover from 2019 losses.” Massive losses for grain production in the Peace country due to early snowfall, Okanagan cherry farmers losing crops to excessive rain and cranberry growers in the Fraser Valley losing fields due to a record setting freeze in February.
These contrasts are clear and should serve to remind us about realities in the world of farming, both small and large scale.
It is hoped that some of the students that I work with will pursue careers in farming and the agri-food economy. Several of them have gone from growing vegetables on their school farms to participating in the Farm Roots program here in Delta and hopefully some of them will take that progress further.
Whether you are a generational farmer who has been working the fields for decades, or you are a Grade 3 student planting your first seeds, remember to keep your eyes open, adapt and remember that Mother Nature wins every time.
Mike Schneider is founder of Project Pickle and likes to write about growing, cooking and eating food. He is a Jamie Oliver Food Revolution ambassador.